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J Am Coll Surg. 2002 Dec;195(6):796-803.

Spontaneous localized intestinal perforation in very-low-birth-weight infants: a distinct clinical entity different from necrotizing enterocolitis.

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Division of Pediatric Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.



Idiopathic spontaneous intestinal perforation (SIP), a distinct clinical entity different from necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), has an increasing prevalence in very-low-birth-weight infants. The aims of our study were to define patient characteristics and potential risk factors for premature infants with SIP compared with infants subjected to surgical treatment for NEC.


The medical records of 29 premature infants with either SIP (n = 13) or NEC (n = 16) were reviewed retrospectively.


Infants who experienced SIP were smaller at birth, had lower Apgar scores, and required more intensive neonatal resuscitation. An increased rate of premature rupture of membranes in infants with SIP (8/13 versus 6/16) was not associated with a higher rate of infection in mothers or infants. The onset of illness in SIP was significantly earlier than in NEC (p = 0.022). In contrast to patients with NEC (7/16), 11 of 13 patients in the SIP group had received indomethacin (p = 0.02). Bluish discoloration of the abdomen (8/13), a gasless abdomen (8/13), and the absence of pneumatosis intestinalis (0/13) were further significant markers in infants with SIP. At operation, SIP was always located in the terminal ileum in an antimesenteric position (13/13), and the remaining bowel appeared grossly normal. In most cases of SIP (10/13), the histologic investigation revealed an area of hemorrhagic necrosis without the typical coagulation necrosis seen predominantly in NEC.


Based on clinical presentation and radiologic and intraoperative findings, SIP is a distinct pathologic entity in very-low-birth-weight infants and can be differentiated from classic NEC. Detected early, SIP can be treated by simple procedures (sutures, or resection and primary anastomosis) with a low rate of morbidity and mortality.

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